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Negotiating With Terrorists

By Gary Noesner

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In January of this year, the State Department was asked whether the United States would consider releasing from jail two convicted terrorists in exchange for Americans being held hostage recently by Algerian terrorists. In response, the State Department spokesperson firmly repeated that “the United States does not negotiate with terrorists.” This strong statement of unwavering resolve sounds good on the surface, but is it really helpful to the process of securing the safe release of American hostages? An aggressive Algerian military response to resolving this incident left 37 hostages dead.

The United States has long embraced the belief such a policy protects our citizens from being taken hostage. The theory is that by denying any potential gain to the terrorists, they will see the futility of taking Americans hostage and then refrain from doing so. This approach may sound logical, but experience has repeatedly shown it has not worked. Americans continue to be frequently taken hostage around the world despite this policy.

The problem arises from the misunderstanding of the term negotiate. Many embrace the false belief that negotiations are synonymous with capitulation or acquiescence, and are therefore unacceptable. Correctly understood, negotiation is simply a dialogue between parties attempting to resolve a disagreement. While some may erroneously infer that negotiation means making substantive concessions, it does not. All agree that our government should not make substantive concessions which reward terrorists for their actions, including the release of prisoners. However, this tough stance does not require repeated public declaration that we will not negotiate, nor should we let this unequivocal phrase inhibit our willingness to open a channel of communications with terrorists in an attempt to save lives. President John F. Kennedy said it best: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

Negotiating With Terrorists By Gary Noesner


Copyright © 2013 Gary Noesner
Copyright ©   2013  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  April 2013